Jandy Nelson has written a debut novel which will resonate with anyone who has ever lost someone they’ve truly loved. The Sky is Everywhere is seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker’s journey through the grief of losing her nineteen-year-old sister.
My sister Bailey collapsed one month ago from a fatal arrhythmia while in rehearsal for a local production of Romeo & Juliet. It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.
The loss of her sister isn’t the first significant loss of Lennie’s young life. She lives with her grandmother and her uncle ‘Big’ (yes, he is indeed) because her mother abandoned her and her sister when Lennie was only one. Despite the fact that Gram and Big are awesome, Lennie is finding it difficult to cope. Lucky for her, Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby, is on hand to share her grief.
“How will we do this? I say under my breath. “Day after day after day without her…”
“Oh, Len.” he turns to me, smooths the hair around my face with his hand.
I look into his sorrowful eyes and he into mine, and I think, He misses her as much as I do, and that’s when he kisses me –
There isn’t a thing I didn’t love about Lennie. She’s lived, thus far, in her sister’s shadow; Bailey was the outgoing, beautiful one. Now, suddenly, Bailey is gone and Lennie is lost. Perhaps that’s what makes Toby so desirable. They can share their grief, but also their memories of someone they both loved.
But, then it gets complicated.
“Even in the stun of grief, my eyes roam from the black boots, up the miles of legs covered in denim, over the endless torso, and finally settle on a face so animated I wonder if I’ve interrupted a conversation between him and my music stand.
Meet Joe Fontaine, the “gypsy,” “rock star,” “pirate,” who arrived at school while Lennie was away. Suddenly Lennie finds herself in a precarious predicament: she is impossibly drawn to Toby even as she crushes hard on Joe. Those feelings are compounded by her guilt because she’s supposed to be sad. And she is.
Make no mistake, The Sky is Everywhere is not a romantic comedy; it’s a beautifully written novel about loss, about being left behind and about what it means to be alive. All the characters are fully realized; even the adults have interior lives, a fact Lennie only begins to understand months after her sister’s death. She also comes to understand that grief is a living thing. Lennie thinks, “I don’t know how the heart withstands it.”
I’m not a fan of eReaders, but I can’t imagine reading this book on one would offer as satisfying an experience as reading the book the traditional way. The novel is filled with poetry written on scraps of paper and found in various places which are named on the back of the found object. How they came to be collected is revealed at the end of the story. The poetry itself is beautiful (Nelson herself is a poet) and I loved its inclusion in the book.
This is a novel I will really look forward to passing on to and talking about with my students.